Three new Md health laws offer more patient protection

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed three laws Thursday that will give more protection for patients. The measures provide more state oversight of cosmetic surgery centers, pharmacies that make sterile medications and staffing agencies that find temporary jobs for health-care professionals.

The bills, pushed by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, were proposed after several patient injuries and deaths were linked to those providers.

One measure requires companies and practitioners who make or distribute sterile compounded medications — or custom-mixed — to get a permit from the Maryland Board of Pharmacy. The law was proposed in response to last fall’s fungal meningitis outbreak. The Massachusetts company that made the tainted steroid shots that caused the outbreak shipped them to 23 states, including Maryland. Twenty-six people were sickened in Maryland, and three died. The law takes effect July 1.

Another measure requires all health-care staffing agencies operating in Maryland to be licensed by the health department. Currently only nurse staffing agencies must be licensed.

The legislation was introduced because a health worker who is accused of exposing thousands of patients in Maryland and elsewhere to hepatitis C repeatedly lied about his background to obtain licensing and credentials. Staffing agencies continued to recommend him for jobs at hospitals after he had been fired elsewhere, according to a Maryland health department report.

David Kwiatkowski, a traveling temporary health-care technician who worked in 16 hospitals in eight states — including four in Maryland — is accused of stealing drugs and infecting patients with the blood-borne viral infection through contaminated syringes. Seven Maryland patients have been found to be infected with a virus closely related to the infections linked to the Kwiatkowski case. The report highlighted regulatory gaps and weak licensing procedures by the Maryland Board of Physicians and by staffing agencies that find temporary jobs for health-care professionals. The new law takes effect Oct. 1.

The third measure authorizes the health department to oversee cosmetic surgery centers, including “medical spa” facilities, after three patients contracted serious infections from liposuction procedures at a Baltimore County facility. One patient died. A health department investigation found the facility lacked adequate infection control procedures. The new law, which takes effect Oct. 1, allows the department to license such facilities and investigate complaints.

Lena H. Sun is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on health.
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